Furniture Company's Revival Has Global Message
Bruce Cochrane started learning the furniture trade as a teen. He worked with his father, Theo â also known as Sonny â who ran the company with his brother, Jerry
"He always instilled in me that it was OK to take chances," Cochrane says. "He'd always say, 'If you aren't fishing, you aren't catching anything.'"
Cochrane remembered those words when trying to decide whether to take the plunge. "I actually had a dream of him telling me that and he was in his fishing gear. At that point, I said, 'Yep, I'm going to do it.'"
That decision came more than a decade after the Cochranes got out of the business. In 1997, the family sold the company to another U.S. manufacturer; the factory remained open and the workers continued to make furniture with the Cochrane name. Over the years, though, more and more work was done in China. The plant finally closed in late 2008, the building was sold and the equipment auctioned off.
Cochrane carefully developed a business plan, and by 2011, he was ready â thanks, in part, to financing from a local bank. The president turned out to be a former company worker.
Last spring, Cochrane â who has two partners â walked into the empty 300,000 square-foot factory.
He soon added family touches, among them an oil painting of his father, hung on the lobby wall. With their silver hair and Clark Kent glasses, father and son share an uncanny resemblance. His eyes mist when he mentions him. "I think about how much he would love this," he says.
Starting over, Cochrane also looked to the past, recruiting former company workers.
When he phoned the first two â both weren't working â he heard doubt in their voices.
"Both of them said, 'I don't think I can do that anymore,'" he recalls. "They had lost their confidence. It (joblessness) puts people in such despair. They think there's something wrong with them rather than the circumstances."
Karen Padgett was one of those first calls. She'd worked her way up from the shipping department to human resources manager, spending 35 years with Cochrane and its successor. When the factory closed, Padgett was adrift.
She was in her 50s, jobs were scarce and a lifetime of working with folks who'd become good friends was suddenly gone.
"It was such a loss," she says. "If you have a death in the family, you feel like you just can't pick up and go forward. That's how I felt. ... I knew I needed to work. I knew I was still vital enough to do something, but I didn't know what I would do."